Getting Your Cat Used To Closed Doors

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This post is dedicated to Poppy, Declan, and Winston. I didn’t have the honor of meeting Winston, but it sounds like he was a pretty special cat.

I want to share something deeply personal, kind of embarrassing, and definitely a bit of TMI: I rarely shower alone. No, this cat behavior blog is not about to take some sort of weird twist into trashy romance novel territory. Zoloft used to become upset if I closed the door to the bathroom and of my current dudes, Poutine, has recently started to come hang out between the shower curtain and liner.

Poutine, a lynx point Siamese cat, sits on the floor as a white dish that says "POUTINE" on it is held up. The dish contains poutine (french fires, cheese curds, and gravy)
Poutine can be a bit clingy, but he’s cute. And his namesake is delicious.

While I could work on getting them used to the door being closed, the truth is I’m just too lazy and don’t care if I have a (feline) guest while I shower. However, there are other situations where one may need to close a door and keep it closed such as when you’re introducing a new cat to your resident cats. If your cat becomes enraged at the thought of any doors being closed, there are things you can do to quiet the protest screams of your cat. It will take some patience and effort, but don’t be discouraged! If you know what you’re doing, it will be well worth it when you can keep your door closed peacefully.

Why Do Cats Hate Closed Doors?

Cats are complex creatures and the reasons for them hating closed doors are just as complex.

One of the most common reasons is due to feelings of being trapped. Cats may feel they cannot escape, especially if they are stuck in a single room. Unfortunately, in many situations like when we are reintroducing cats or separating cats after a fight, you have to keep a door closed in order for the process to work or due to safety concerns so you’ll need one of the solutions below to help them not feel trapped.

Cats may not like being separated from you. Contrary to the myth that cats hate humans, cats actually can have separation anxiety similar to dogs. They may also worry that their territory is being cut off or that you may never come back. While it’s sweet that cats so very desperately want to be near us, it would be great if they let us know a bit more quietly.

Depending on which door is closed, you may have cut off access to a resource your cat wants to use. If their favorite cat tower is in that room or there’s a warm vent they want to nap near, they may be trying to access it.

Lastly, you may be accidentally training your cat to scream at the door. Cats can be trained using things besides treats. If they want access to a room and you open the door in response to them screaming or scratching at the door, they’ll be more likely to repeat that same behavior next time. They may have done it once when they wanted something else and you responded by opening the door in response to their cries. The next time they want something? Might as well try screaming or scratching at the door because it worked before.

How To Help Your Cat Be Okay With The Door Closed

Clearly, there are a lot of of reasons cats get upset if the door is closed. Are you just supposed to accept that your cat is mad that the door is closed and never be able to close it ever? Is all hope lost?!

A gray and white cat walks by a closed door that is made of wood on a cobblestone path.
Guess this door will just remain shut forever. Photo by Justin Luebke.

Oh come on, obviously I have some solutions for you. Let’s go over a few things to try.

Get A Medical Problem Ruled Out

This should always be your first step. Make sure there is nothing medically wrong with your cat. If they can’t find anything, the next step is behavioral interventions.

Address Environmental Causes

If you can identify an underlying reason why your cat is upset that the door is closed, you can address it. For example, if their litter box or another resource is on the other side, make sure there is another litter box on the side of the door your cat is on. Your cat really should always be able to access a litter box anyway unless you want them peeing on your floor. Repeat the same process with their water fountain, favorite perch, and so forth.

Depending on what they are upset about being cut off from, you may need to get creative about how you add in more of that resource. For something like a warm vent, construction to add an additional vent or rearranging your furniture is a bit extreme, but you can add a heated cat bed without much effort. Think of another way to meet that same need whatever that need is.

Get Them Used To Doors Being Closed

You can help your cat cat gradually get used to the door being closed. Grab some of their favorite treats or toys and bring them into the room or on whichever side of the door the cat needs to be on. You may want to eventually repeat this on both sides of the door, but start with one side until your cat is comfortable.

Get your cat playing or eating their treat then close the door briefly. Make sure they are still getting whatever special treat they are enjoying the whole time the door is closed and then open it again before they finish. Gradually increase the amount of time the door is closed. You may need to combine methods and use treats, play, brushing, or anything else your cat loves.

Get Them Used To You Not Being There

While this is a great method to get your cat used to the door being closed while you are there, you may need to be on the other side. To help them be okay with you being on the other side of the door, get them something really tasty and good or a special automatic toy they can play with while you are not there. You can use a lick mat so they take a bit longer to finish a treat. Briefly leave the room and while they are enjoying their treat and return before they become anxious. Repeat this while gradually increasing the length of time they are separated from you.

Don’t Reinforce The Behavior

If your cat learned that them making noise or clawing at the door gets you to open the door, they’ll be likely to repeat the behavior. If you try to resist the urge to open the door, they may experience an extinction burst and the behavior may get worse. If you open the door during the extinction burst, they’ll learn if they just keep going eventually they may succeed. You’re not teaching them to become persistent.

However, extinctions bursts are pretty stressful so you don’t want to just ignore it. Teach them to do something else or reinforce another behavior.

You can use clicker training to teach your cat another behavior such as sitting calmly on a mat nearby so they learn to wait for your. You could even teach your cat to ring a doorbell as an alternative. Begin by ringing the doorbell yourself and opening the door right after. Eventually, your cat will make the connection and try ringing the bell themselves. Praise them as you open the door. You can also use clicker training to teach them to ring the bell if needed.

Keep The Door Open… Somehow

Depending on the reason for the door being closed, you may be able to find a way to let the cat in and out without issue. For example, if trying to keep a dog out of the room, you can use a door prop that keeps the door open just enough so the cat can get by, but the dog can’t. Other great tools may include a pet gate with a cat door or even a cat door installed into the door or wall.

If your goal is to keep cats separated or allow one cat to have a sanctuary from another cat, those options won’t be great as both cats can get through. Instead, you may need to get a microchip activated cat door. Even if your cat isn’t microchipped (which I absolutely recommend doing), you can get a tag to attach to a collar so they can go through it but other cats or pets can’t. Many even allow you to program when the cat can go through.

Meet Their Needs Another Way

For those of you whose cat is trying to wake them up in the morning or get you to feed them, you may need to find another way for them to meet whatever need they’re trying to get. I recently got an automatic feeder to help with my dudes waking me up in the morning and it has been an excellent choice. They can also help if your cat seems to be trying to get food from you during the day.

If you keep your cat out of your bedroom at night and don’t want to go the automatic feeder route, make sure your cat gets a play session right before bed and feed them a meal around that time as well. Consider leaving out a food puzzle so they have something fun to do and to further make sure they’ve had enough mental stimulation to get through the evening.

Things To Avoid

While it may be frustrating for you to have your cat meowing or clawing at the door, hopefully by now you see that it happens because your cat is anxious or stressed out by something. The last thing you want to do is make them more anxious or stressed as it will exacerbate the underlying problem. Unfortunately, a lot of advice you see online suggests using methods that are not only kind of rude, but they can exacerbate the underlying problem.

One of the methods that I don’t recommend is motion-activated air canisters. While some advocate for them as being humane alternatives to extremely problematic methods like shock mats, they create fear and stress in your cat. Whenever your cat walks by them they’ll become stressed out. What you’re doing is creating a living environment where your cat is being punished for being anxious. That’s not particularly humane as your cat’s psychological wellbeing matters, too.

Even if your main concern isn’t your cat’s well-being, that type of environment can lead to other stress-related behavior problems. Focus on addressing the underlying causes rather than simply trying to suppress a behavior. It’s better for you and your cat.

Conclusions

If your cat demands that you keep the door open at all times, there’s something really bothering them. It may be distress related to being separated from you or feeling trapped. You cat may be curious as well, but the majority of cases come down to anxiety. While it can be tempting to try to use punishments to try to squish the behavior, it doesn’t address the underlying issue and you’re ultimately punishing your cat for being fearful. Be kind and patient with your cat and both of you will lead happier lives… regardless of doors being opened or closed.

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!